Published: September 30, 2019
Good morning. Thank you for allowing me to speak today and share my experiences and views on the negative effect of the significant wage gap between public and private sector employees doing the same work.
My name is Dan Nadeau, and I have been in the field for 21 years, exclusively in the private sector, working with developmentally and intellectually disabled adults with mental illness and other life challenges. For this job, one needs a thick skin, a kind heart, and passion. However, one cannot live on passion alone. The hard truth is that the cost of living in Massachusetts is very high, forcing many people to hold a second or third job. Many are also simultaneously balancing family life and supporting their children. In the quest for increased wages to support their families, I’ve seen many staff pursue higher education so that they qualify for higher paying positions in the field.
Those who can’t afford school, or simply cannot find the time to attend often end up looking for similar work at increased pay. They often find this with the State. I’ve seen people begin in the private sector, where they obtain trainings and orientations, only to have them leave a short time later for similar positions within State agencies, where they can earn better wages and benefits. The existence of this disparity produces a sort of passive headhunting by the State, luring people away from the private sector, with detrimental results on the people we work with and the agencies that serve them.
In my role as Assistant Program Director, my job duties include both administrative tasks and hands-on direct care of people with disabilities. This allows me a unique perspective on the negative effect of high turnover from both sides of the service coin. From a supervisory perspective, time (and money) is wasted on orientation, trainings, and team-building for employees that end up being temporary. Positions remain unfilled, the schedule is ever-changing, and the remaining staff feel consistently “under water” with their workload. Expensive temp agencies are used to fill necessary shifts due to mandatory ratios for clients that require intensive care, and staff are demoralized. Seasoned staff are being put in the unfortunate and sometimes unsafe situation of constantly having to work with “green” new staff or per diem staff that are unfamiliar with the clients and the clients’ challenging behaviors. Knowing they are being paid less than what the State can offer adds insult to injury.
Turnover caused by staff leaving to work for the State has an even worse effect on those we serve. Clients see high turnover and are forced to work with temps or per-diem staff that don’t know them, their home, their personalities, or their likes and dislikes. Lack of consistency with staff contributes to lack of consistency with care, which can cause considerable setbacks for the individuals we serve, especially those with behavioral challenges and those on the autism spectrum. Clients that have communication deficits or are non-verbal benefit immensely from care by those that have known them and their communication style for longer periods of time. Those with mental health issues also benefit from the therapeutic rapport that can only come with a long-term professional relationship. I’ve had individuals flat-out ask new hires, “how long do you plan on staying?” Last month I had a client tell me that they will be sure to not get “too attached” to a new hire because people just end up leaving anyway.
You, the leaders and lawmakers, can help with these difficult situations by addressing the wage disparity between the public and private sectors. Please help reduce turnover rates by promoting equal pay for equal work. I’ve been heartened by HB138 and SB1077, which would use increased incremental funding allocated specifically to close the considerable wage gap. I strongly urge you to support the Fair Pay for Comparable Work Act and similar legislation aimed at the elimination of wage disparity.
My passion and drive have kept me in this field for 21 years. I’m counting on you to make it viable for me to continue fostering professional relationships with the agency I enjoy and clients I love for the next 21.
Dan Nadeau, Assistant Program Director, Bridgewell